According to a study partially funded by the European Parliament, the gig economy is changing workplaces across Europe, mostly to the detriment of employees.
The study undertaken by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), UNI Europa, the European services workers union, the University of Hertfordshire and Ipsos MORI reveals part of the damage cause by the emergence of the gig economy. Apparently, Europe’s gig workplace obliterates any sense of normative regulation of the labour market..
How big is the gig economy?
From 9% of the German workforce to 22% in Italy, millions are depending on so-called crowd work to make up to half of their income, on platforms such as Upwork, Clickwork, Myhammer, Taskrabbit, Helpling, or indeed Uber.
This work is precarious, informal, temporary, often dangerous, and doesn’t provide for a decent living, in and of itself. For the moment, crowd work appears to be mostly a supplement to other forms of activity, such as renting out a room or having regular employment.
No more than 1,6% of the adult population in the Netherlands make more than 50% of their income from gigs. In Germany (2,1%), Austria (2,3%), Sweden (2,7%), the UK (2,7%), and Italy (5,1%), the share of the workforce dependent on gigs for most of their income is significantly higher. And the number of people who report working full-time in a gig style sector is rising. Up to 41% of Italian gig workers report working full-time.
These numbers add up to millions of Europeans. From just under 2,2 million Italians to 1,45 million Germans. Interestingly, this is the first generation of precarious workers than are almost evenly shared, men and women.
So what is actually changing in the European work place?
The precariousness of gig work “infects” with informality a whole range of working environments. In sum, the gig economy is a challenge to the whole taxonomy of employment.
Only 7-13% of crow-workers consider themselves self-employed. Most feel stressed and undervalued, as platforms treat them as expendable, reporting arbitrary termination of work, no sense of defending their “employees” and frequent changes to payment schemes.
The hazards gig-workers face are both physical and emotional, according to the report. They cannot plan their private time, as they need to be constantly available because they fear negative ratings. And without any formal rights, they are often vulnerable to pressures ranging from sexual harassment to being pressed to deliver drugs.
The report points to the need to formalize aspects of the gig economy, especially on issues relating to one-sided flexibility such as dismissals, insurance coverage; data protection; and health and safety. Moreover, there needs to be a rethink on safeguarding private time as well as working time, so as to include waiting and preparation. The authors of the study also see a need to safeguard the notion of minimum payment.